William Starke Rosecrans, Commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland from October 24, 1862 to October 19, 1863, was born in 1819 on a farm near Little Taylor Run in Delaware County, Ohio. Unable to afford college, Rosecrans applied for an appointment to West Point. He interviewed with Congressman Alexander Harper, and Harper was so impressed by Rosecrans that he nominated him instead of his own son. Rosecrans excelled academically at West Point, particularly in mathematics and engineering, and graduated fifth in a class of 56.
He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the prestigious Corps of Engineers, but, suffering from poor health, Rosecrans resigned from the Army in 1854 and became a very successful mining operator and engineer Western Virginia. He designed and implemented one of the first complete lock and dam systems in the region, and later built one of the first oil refineries. He also invented many useful tools, including the first kerosene lamp to successfully burn a round wick.
Returning to the Army at the start of the Civil War, Rosecrans led troops to success at the battles of Iuka and Corinth. Given command of the Army of the Cumberland, he defeated Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg at Stones River, and then outmaneuvered him in the Tullahoma Campaign, driving the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee and the critical city of Chattanooga. The Tullahoma Campaign is considered one of the most brilliant pieces of strategy of the entire Civil War. However, Rosecrans’ brusque, quarrelsome personality led to professional rivalries and conflicts with his commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
Three months after the Tullahoma Campaign, Bragg’s Confederate army surprised Rosecrans’ army at Chickamauga Creek. During the Battle of Chickamauga, Sept 18, 19, and 20th, 1863, Rosecrans’ premature order opened a gap in the Union line and the entire Army of the Cumberland was nearly destroyed. Rosecrans was immediately relieved of command by Grant.
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